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The Star-Spangled Battle of Baltimore

Baltimore's Ft. McHenry.
Bob Malesky, NPR /
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Baltimore's Ft. McHenry.
Cover of 'The Burning of Washington'
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Cover of 'The Burning of Washington'

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is celebrating another birthday. It was 190 years ago this week -- during the Battle of Baltimore -- that Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics that later became the U.S. national anthem.

Historian Anthony Pitch talks to NPR's Liane Hansen about the events that led to a decisive American victory and the end of the War of 1812.

Key, a young Washington lawyer, wrote the song aboard a British ship. He and a fellow American, John Skinner, were attempting to secure the release of a friend captured by the British following the Battle of Bladensburg and the burning of Washington several weeks earlier.

Impressed by humane American treatment of wounded British soldiers at Bladensburg, the commander agreed to release his American captive after his attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry. Key and Skinner were essentially hostages on the ship during much of the battle.

After an intense bombardment, Key saw "the flag still there," signaling that the battered fort was still in U.S. hands. And he was moved to write the lyrics that are still with us today.

The Battle of Baltimore proved a defining moment for the young nation. The victory restored dignity and self-worth, and the defeat of the powerful British Navy launched the U.S. ascent as a world power.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.